VENICE, Italy, Oct. 19, 2014 – Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal is a sumptuously gorgeous venerable Venetian luxury hotel located along the lagoon at the mouth of the Grand Canal, with unparalleled views of Santa Maria della Salute Cathedral and the Punta della Dogana.
Just yards from Saint Mark’s Square, and with one of the finest locations in Venice in the middle of its most fashionable shopping district, it remains a jewel in the crown of distinctively fine Venetian hotel establishments.
A consistently grand and beautiful space that is a tribute to fine arts, Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal combines classic touches with modern interior design to create a lovely hybrid of the present and the past.
The lobby is an open and spacious affair, stretching the length of the ground floor with a large glass paneled ceiling covering the sitting area of what was once the interior courtyard, surrounded by Doric support columns of stunning distinction.
It joins two distinctly unique buildings that together make up the property, the original waterside Monaco Hotel and the classically beautiful 16th-century Ridotto Theatre, Venice’s legendary first casino, where Casanova once gambled and the cream of Venetian society gathered at a time when Venice was at the height of its powers.
Touches of modern art merged into the lobby environment are found everywhere, from a large installation of rope and TV monitors with flowing water symbolizing Venice’s past as a sailing power in the Mediterranean, to oversized canvas paintings of Elvis and Marilyn in their prime.
The integration of art and modern touches is distinctive and quite beautifully done, lending a tempo and tone that carries throughout the hotel.
The staff at the Monaco & Grand Canal is fabulously attentive with a genteel low key ambiance, and service is impeccable at all levels.
Hotel manager extraordinaire Michele Novello has an easygoing charm and elegance, guiding the bustling daily affairs of state in his domain with a calm, crisp and well-dressed brilliance.
Beautiful rooms along the lagoon with high ceilings and large window that open onto stunning views have a classic Venetian tone with gold and green fabric walls and matching curtains, valences and couches.
Murano glass lamps and chandeliers are a particularly impressive touch, as are the intricately carved headboards above the king-size bed.
Through the valence of the open window lie the entrance to the Grand Canal, the Punta della Dogana, Santa Maria della Salute basilica, the Venetian Lagoon and the nearby islands of Giudecca and San Giorgio.
A gathering of gondolas and their gondoliers bob in the tranquil tide as they lie docked in a row alongside the banks of the lagoon just below the window.
It is a classic, overwhelming view of this ancient city that recalls paintings made over the last millennium, seen many times in a lifetime, that now reside in the great art museums around the world, except that here it is in the flesh, in reality, being seen with wide open and joyful eyes.
There are few places on the planet that invoke the feelings and emotions that are as starkly unique and stunningly beautiful as Venice, especially when combined with the lore of the centuries, both recent and antiquity.
Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal is an integral part of that history, both ancient and contemporary, and combines a spectacular environment and experience with an omnipresent sense of its place in the firmament around it.
The original Hotel Monaco opened in the 1980s and is now owned by Gilberto Benetton of the fashion group Benetton, whose influence has remade the hotel in an exceptional style.
His personal penthouse, complete with rooftop patio, also serves as an eclectic Presidential suite when he is not in town.
A complete renovation from 2002 – 2004 lent the modern distinctive touches to the interior of the original hotel, and then merged it with the magically historic Ridotto Theatre next door, all while preserving and restoring the stunning core of what is now the special event and banquet area of the hotel.
The Ridotto Theatre, now the grand ballroom on the second floor, is an architectural masterwork dating from the 16th century, when it was the first official casino in Venice, attended by Casanova himself, among other nobles.
It is as dramatically beautiful a room as you will ever see, similar to some of the grand rooms in the Doges Palace, with 30-foot ceilings, cream-colored plaster walls and amazing frescos on the ceiling.
A series of somewhat smaller but still intensely beautiful rooms form a rectangle of chambers that create a surreal environment that plunges the senses into the 16th century and the glories of ancient Venice.
It is now used for concerts, weddings, receptions and business meetings, and the modern touch is maintained with stylish clear plexi-glass chairs that offer a reminder of the beauty of classic and modern themes blended seamlessly.
Mere steps from the hotel entrance and just across the alley from the front of the hotel, is Harry’s Bar, once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells, and famous as the place where the Bellini was invented by renowned hotelier Giuseppe Cipriani.
Upscale stores from Bruno Magli to Roberto Cavalli, Bluemarine and Versace fill the streets all around the hotel. The atmosphere is as vibrantly posh and electric on the streets as it is refined and gloriously serene in the lobby.
Less than 100 yards from the hotel are the wondrous glories of St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Doges Palace, and the towering Camponile dominating St. Mark’s Square. The feeling upon entering this iconic view of the centuries is completely surrealistic, as if a beacon of the past has come to life and enveloped you.
Dinner in the hotel at the Grand Canal Restaurant is a sumptuous affair, tucked away in a beautiful room stretching across the waterside façade of the hotel overlooking the Venetian lagoon.
Gondolas bob fitfully in the water, and the sun goes down in a blaze of orange and pink reflections.
In a lovely fine art design element, a number of distinctive seven-foot classic tile mosaics adorn the entryway to the dining area, depicting the primary parts of the Venetian past, including gondoliers, masquerades and ladies in waiting.
The dining room is refined and gorgeous, with damask cloth cream-colored wall coverings and picture windows looking out across the lagoon to the island of Giudecca. .
Service is precise, warm, and seamless with a knowledgeable staff, some of whom have been here for 15 years or more.
An amuse-bouche of mashed potato and white truffle is a perfect start to a fantastic meal, the truffle sumptuous and freshly harvested from the Piedmont district of Italy..
Pilgrim Scallops with black truffle and Topinambur sauce are intensely flavorful, large scallops topped with a thick layer of truffle, exceptionally juicy and plump, with the subtle encompassing counter taste of truffle prevailing in the afterglow.
A generous portion of seared octopus is simply fabulous, tender and meaty, like a filet mignon of the sea, in a slightly lemony sauce infused with garlic, rich and flavorful, a sumptuous dish and a perfect appetizer.
Sauteed scampi with fresh tomato in white wine and parsley is a classic Venetian dish, the prawns enormous, the texture beautifully firm yet tender, the scampi melting in the mouth like a buttery vision.
The crowning achievement is an unbelievable mixed grill of Adriatic fish, sea bream, turbot, monkfish and scampi, grilled and served whole at the table on a large platter, a jaw-dropping epic presentation of seafood at the culinary heart of Venice.
The waiter Lorenzo dresses and debones the fish with expert precision, presenting a large plate of sumptuous delights that are the greatest cumulative collection of exotic fresh fish dish any diner could ever hope for.
The heavenly three-hour excursion into the heart of Venetian cuisine is accompanied by an equally marvelous 2008 La Poderina Brunella di Montelcino from Tuscany.
Espresso and the afterglow of an exquisite meal linger long after the dinner ends, the soft light of the moon glints off the lagoon, and the bells of Santa Maria della Salute cathedral ring in the hour.
In a world of fine hotels and a city of beautiful palazzo’s Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal stands out for its unmatchable location, its seamless blend of ancient Venice and modern design, and the casual joy of staying there.
Leaving is a wistful experience, as one gazes out across the lagoon and the entrance to the Grand Canal, watching gondola pass in the morning light.
It is made easier in the knowledge that the memory of this experience and the majesty of Venice will remain in the heart and reverberate in the mind long after leaving this magical city, but that is cold comfort when it’s actually time to go.
Rooms start at around $280 per night, and junior suites run about $350 a night. Rooms with Grand Canal views begin at around $400 nightly, while suites with Grand Canal views start at about $550 a night.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal